Corporal Jackie,
The Militarized Monkey

The Combat Vet Baboon

Jackie the baboon mustered off to war alongside his
human counterpart replete with uniform, pay book and mess kit.

Albert Marr was a farmer in South Africa soon after the turn of the 20th Century. Had the world seen fit to leave him alone, Marr no doubt would have lived out his life in peace and anonymity. However, the world had other plans.

Farming in Africa is not fundamentally dissimilar to farming in other places, with the possible exception of the wildlife. Africa enjoys the richest collection of animal life on the planet. From plains-grazing ungulates to enormous carnivorous aquatic reptiles to the largest terrestrial mammals in the world, Africa has forever been the destination for hunters and naturalists serious about their craft. Africa also plays host to some of the world’s most remarkable primates.

Living and working in such a vast natural milieu, Albert Marr interacted with lions, leopards and African hoofed stock on a regular basis. One day, while out on his modest farm, he came across an orphaned baby baboon. Marr scooped him up, took him home, and resolved to raise the little monkey as his own. He named the adolescent simian Jackie.

A Curious Family Pet

To this point, this is a quaint story but little else. I have several local friends who raised raccoons as children. I myself had a brace of rambunctious fox squirrels that kept me company when I was a burgeoning man-child. However, in 1914, World War 1 conflagrated. A year later, Marr was drafted. By then, he had grown terribly fond of the family baboon.

Many of the Allied units drawn up to fight in the first War to End All Wars were regional outfits. Forming military units out of men who had been neighbors was a two-edged sword. On the one hand, the pre-existing familiarity went a long way toward fomenting the esprit necessary to establish unit cohesion. The flip side was that the inevitable losses stung that much more. When Marr reported for conscription, he insisted on bringing Jackie the baboon along with him. Much to everyone’s surprise, his commanders were good with it. It seemed Jackie was going to war.

Smart, agile, cunning and fast, baboons are social creatures who form strong familial bonds in the wild. As Jackie had been raised on the Marr farm, humans were his tribe. Both man and monkey were sworn into the 3rd South African Infantry Regiment (Transvaal) and immediately took to soldiering. Jackie was designated the unit mascot forthwith.

The grunts of the 3rd South African Infantry Regiment
developed a deep and abiding attachment for Jackie.

The Militarized Monkey

The men of the 3rd South African Regiment scrounged up an appropriately-scaled uniform, hat and mess gear. The little monkey was even issued his own paybook. In short order, he learned to stand at attention, assume the position of at ease, recognize and salute superior officers, and light his comrade’s cigarettes. He ate with a knife and fork like a human, washed up in his own personal basin, and marched alongside the human soldiers during close order drill.

Once serving downrange, Jackie was more than just a pet. He would stand guard duty with the unit sentries at night, his keen senses a boon to tactical operations. Jackie invariably was the first to detect a pending attack by the Boche. However, Europe during World War I was a terribly dangerous place.

During the Battle of Delville Wood early in the Somme Campaign, Marr and Jackie were among the scant 20% of their unit that avoided being killed or seriously injured. In the winter of 1916, Marr caught a round in the shoulder during the Battle of Agagia while serving in Egypt. Jackie remained by his side, licking the man’s wounds until he could be evacuated.

The strain of combat took a toll on Jackie just as it did his human counterparts. While languishing in the trenches in France under fire, Jackie occupied himself constructing a modest wall behind which he might hide from incoming shells. However, during one particularly heavy barrage, a piece of shrapnel caught Jackie in the leg and arm. The courageous monkey was medically evacuated and treated by the unit surgeons. They reluctantly amputated his right leg and, in so doing, saved his life.

Finally Home

In the aftermath of his injury, Jackie was promoted to corporal and granted an award for bravery, the Pretoria Citizens Service Medal. I can only imagine what it must have felt like to be a human private in his unit and find oneself outranked by a one-legged monkey. Jackie eventually came home with Albert and was presented with his own discharge papers.

Jackie thrived once back home but tragically perished in a house fire in 1921. After having survived so much pain, carnage and death, to have succumbed under such pedestrian circumstances made his passing all the more tragic. His friend Albert Marr, however, lived a long, full life, eventually passing away in 1973 at age 84.

War is the most inhuman of human pursuits. Politicians make the policies, and young men do the bleeding and dying. In this poignant tale of one combat veteran and his crippled pet baboon, we see personified the raw inhumanity of the thing. Perhaps Jackie the war monkey has a message for us all today.

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